You never know where the next clue in your genealogical odyssey will appear. Sometimes, if youâ€™re like me, you take the information provided by the only resources you have–family stories and traditions–and run with them. After a while, though, you begin to think that someone threw you a curve ball, perhaps inadvertently or perhaps not. You reexamine everything you have and then try to make some sense of it. When it doesnâ€™t make any more sense than it did before, this is called a BRICK WALL! I know that Iâ€™ve had any number of them, and that most of them have been cracked, broken, demolished, and/or swept away through collaboration with other researchers.
I have been seeking the details about my great-uncle Brisco Holder for more than twenty years. I have searched census records, posted messages on message boards and mailing lists, searched in libraries and archives, and tried in vain to research the veracity of family stories. All of this has been to no avail–until recently. Let me share the story as briefly as I can.
The Family Story
Regular readers of my columns, magazine articles, blog, and listeners to â€œThe Genealogy Guys Podcastâ€ have often heard me talk about my great-grandfather, Green Berry Holder. Following his service in the Confederate Army, he and his older brother walked in 1865 from Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia back to their family home near Lawrenceville, Gwinnett County, Georgia. Before the end of the year, the brothers and their parents had relocated westward to Lindale, in Floyd County, Georgia. On 27 December 1866, Green Berry married Ansibelle Penelope Swords. (The Floyd County Marriage Book, Vol. A, Page 347, # 1359) incorrectly lists her name as A. P. Sanders, and I have been able to disprove that with other sources!)
Green Berry and Penelope Swords Holder relocated in the mid-1880s to a new home in Rome, Georgia. Green Berry became a well-respected businessman, board member of two banks, a commodities and real estate speculator, and two-time Representative to the Georgia House. Throughout their years together, Penelope and Green Berry produced a fine family! Their first of six sons was born in January of 1868; the first of their six daughters was born in July of 1872. Their last child, a daughter, Elizabeth Holder, was born on 19 July 1885. She was my maternal grandmother.
Brisco Washington Holder was the fifth son born, according to his WWI draft registration record at Ancestry, on 26 March 1877. I am still seeking more information about him, but I know that he was still in Rome, Floyd County, Georgia, at the time of the election of 1906 and cast his vote, ostensibly for his fatherâ€™s candidacy for his first term in office in the Georgia House of Representatives. However, it must not have been much later that a problem developed.
According to accounts from my mother and her sister, which they heard from Great-Aunt Emma Dale Holder, Green Berry Holder and Brisco Holder had an argument following Brisco’s â€œmistreatment of his mother,â€ and Green Berry “ran him off.” Use your imagination to imagine what, in 1906, could have caused such an event. Was it the use of offensive language? Sassing his mother? Slapping his mother? Disobeying her? Or was it some other sin or transgression that was socially unacceptable at the time? Your guess is as good as mine, and we will probably never know the answer.
Emma Dale Holder was the seventh child in the family (1876-1964) and Brisco was the eighth child (born the next year, 1877). Apparently these two siblings were very close and it seems she was the only one with whom he kept in touch over the years.
The family story, at least from my mother (1911-93) and my aunt (1914-2000) who apparently had it from Emma Dale, was that Brisco died â€œin the mid-1920sâ€ in some Midwestern town, perhaps Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Chillicothe, etc. Boy, this was certainly a nebulous area to search. With the idea of it having been a place starting with the letter â€œC,â€ I was in for an extensive and wild research journey.
My search has taken me many places in person, including most of the places that are mentioned above. Iâ€™ve also mined the Web and all the resources I could imagine, with wild abandon. (It was like looking for a missing cat in the house: you eventually get desperate and look in the oven, the microwave, the dryer, and the attic, although those alternatives are impossible!) It has led me to post messages on mailing lists and message boards. I have searched military records, city directories, and a host of other resources in search of Brisco.
Using Ancestry Resources
Ancestry is, without doubt, the most prolific and comprehensive database site in the world. With more than 25,000 databases in the U.S., Canada, Australia, the UK, France, Germany, and Italy, it is the mother lode of genealogical information. Of course, not everything is there, but there is a huge set of genealogical information there! Having written the â€œThe Official Guide to Ancestry.com,â€ I really know how to use Ancestry and to search it with a huge amount of effectiveness!
The World War I Draft Registrations database was the first place I found Brisco Washington Holder. Without having found him in the 1910 federal census, Briscoâ€™s first appearance in any records was in Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, on 12 September 1918 when he registered for the draft (in the third registration). Further research with the National Personnel Records Center indicates that he did not serve in the military in WWI.
I have searched for city directories and all sorts of other record types at Ancestry, using various search strategies including spelling variations, location changes and deviations, name reversals, initials, nicknames, general searches and exact searches, and a vast number of variants–all of which you have to consider.
The Value of Collaboration
I have been tremendously successful working with the Ancestry message boards and mailing lists, with uploading my GEDCOM file from my database into the My Ancestry area, and searching and contacting other researchers. I wonâ€™t lie to you; it has been an important part of my genealogical research to make these contacts and to develop collaborative relationships and friendships with these wonderful people.
Finding Brisco at Last!
While the Ancestry resources have been helpful and have given me hope, you never know where the conclusive clues will come from! Drew Smith and I are the co-hosts of The Genealogy Guys PodcastÂ each week. One of our listeners, Sherry L. (surname withheld), sent an e-mail a couple of Saturdays ago that rocked my genealogical life!
Sherryâ€™s e-mail subject line read, â€œIs This Your Brisco Holder?â€ I will save this e-mail forever because, when I opened it, there was a link to the Missouri Death Certificates, 1910-1956 database. When I searched for Brisco Holder, I found a link to his death certificate #17351. He had not died in the 1920s; he had died on 17 May 1949 in St. Louis, St. Louis County, Missouri, at the age of seventy-two! Based on his birth date, location, and fatherâ€™s name, this was the correct person! (His motherâ€™s name was incorrect.)
Sherry gave me the greatest genealogical gift of my life, and I cannot thank her enough! In my next column, I will share with you the immediate research that the death certificate gave me, the reactions of the rest of my first cousins–descendants of Elizabeth Holder–information from other people in the St. Louis area who looked at the grave for me, and where this takes us from here.
However, as you can see, publication in whatever form and collaboration with other kind and wonderful genealogists can bring your research â€œbrick wallsâ€ to become something else.
Happy Hunting and Collaborations!
Note: Click on the photograph accompanying this article to see the Holder family. Green Berry and Ansibelle Penelope Swords Holder are seated in the second row at the right. (This is only the second complete family photo that exists of the family, and this dates from the Summer of 1905.) The girl seated next to Green Berry (the man with the beard) is my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Holder. These are all twelve children and the parents, in the last known photo ever taken of them all. Brisco Washington Holder is in the first row, second from the left, and Emma Dale Holder is the third from the left.
Georgeâ€™s brand new book, â€œThe Official Guide to Ancestry.com,â€ is now available from his companyâ€™s website, Aha! Seminars, Inc., personally autographed by the author! Listen to The Genealogy Guys Podcast each week for fun, entertaining, and informative genealogy discussions.